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A game changer in grain farming

Australian engineer Tom Carroll was convinced that self-propelled combines were the way of the future

What was designed by an Australian, built in Ontario, field tested in Argentina, revolutionized grain farming, and — 75 years ago — was sold to a Rapid City farmer?

Full points if you guessed the first commercially successful self-propelled combine, and bonus ones if you knew it was the Massey Harris Model 20 purchased by a Mr. Harold Westwood of Rapid City.

Australian engineer Tom Carroll had been working for Massey Harris for 25 years when he became convinced that self-propelled combines were the way of the future. An earlier model, the Sunshine Combine, had been produced in the 1920s by an Australian company that Massey Harris owned a stake in, and Carroll had seen pull-type combines in Argentina that had been converted to self-propelled machines.

The machine he designed had a wide 16-foot table, a generous-size 37-inch cylinder, and was built on a steel girder chassis powered by a Chrysler six-cylinder truck engine. It was also equipped with the ultimate in operator comfort, a sunshade over the operator’s seat. The table could be equipped with a pickup or a knife-and-reel, allowing the combine to straight cut given proper crop conditions.

In 1938, eight pre-production prototypes were delivered to farms in Argentina for field testing. Feedback on their performance was so positive that production was authorized immediately.

Harold Westwood, who operated the Massey Harris dealership in Rapid City, purchased his in 1938, although the first machines weren’t delivered until early in ’39. It was a hit, with 925 Model 20s sold in two years. It was replaced by the Model 21, which sold in the thousands and made Massey Harris the industry leader in self-propelled combines.

Westwood’s purchase proved a wise investment. He farmed through the 1950s and sold the combine to a nephew sometime in the early 1960s. The nephew used it for a few years and then parked the machine. Harold’s grandsons, Allan and Laurence Westwood, purchased the machine in 1983, got it back in operating condition, and donated it to the Manitoba Agricultural Museum.

The museum’s 2013 Threshermen’s Reunion will feature the Massey family of companies. Anyone with equipment built by Massey Harris (or Sawyer Massey, Massey Harris Ferguson, Massey Ferguson, or firms purchased by the Massey family such as Wallis or Wisner) are encouraged to bring their machines to the Massey Expo. (Call 204-637-2354 to make arrangements.) For more information, visit ag-museum.mb.ca.

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